From Modern Love to Research Design

The other day I was perusing my Twitter feed and was attracted to this tweet for The New York Times’s Modern Love column.

I was intrigued by, "You're asking the wrong question," so I clicked on the link. Because I've wanted an excuse--motivation!--to add to the ONE blog I have from last year about teaching, I’m cheating a bit by adapting a twitter thread I wrote for this blog post. Bear with me … it is related to my teaching!

I don't read the Modern Love column as often as I'd like, so I enjoyed taking the time to read this one. The theme is familiar: love and loss. Of course, I see tales of failure, opportunity, and success in nearly everything these days, so I was particularly drawn to this essay.

But half way through, I wondered, what's the hook? Where's "the wrong question?"

You have to read to the last sentence to get it, but it’s worth it. I won’t say too much, just that it’s about gratitude.

I love the concept of gratitude, particularly as it relates to failure and success. In learning and thinking about these concepts and their relationship to each other, I ran across a TED Radio Hour episode on happiness.

When you have some time, I encourage you to listen. It has several parts, and all are thoughtful and compelling.

As an aside, a friend gave me this same Hawaiian hula dancer a couple years ago and she sits on my car dashboard, just like in this picture. It always makes me smile.

Anyway, the last segment of the episode is about gratitude and its relationship to happiness, delivered by a Benedictine monk named David Steindl-Rast. I could listen to it--and to him--all day.

After the 10th (or 100th time), it occurred to me that my students might benefit from the message about gratitude. Like all of us, our students struggle with how to manage challenges, appreciate failure, recognize happiness, and achieve success. Steindl-Rast has some very poignant insights that are worth sharing.

But also, I teach an undergraduate research course. We spend a lot of time talking about empirical questions, assumptions, and arguments, as well as concepts, measurement, and other aspects of research design. In his talk, Steindl-Rast makes some important observations and assumptions about the connection between gratitude and happiness. He provides a useful foundation for class discussion about concept development and hypothesis testing, and a fun way to think about correlation and causality. Working in groups, students practice designing research to test the proposition that gratitude leads to happiness. Or, is it the other way around? Hmmm ...

In my constant pursuit to find relevant and meaningful non-political examples for teaching research and critical thinking skills, this one is a gem.

And, it comes with the bonus of listening to Pharrell Williams’s Happy (from Despicable Me 2). What’s not to like?